Berries of fire warm winter landscape

Enjoy thorny pyracantha's bright orange-red fruits when nothing else blooms

February 18, 2007|By Kathy Van Mullekom | Kathy Van Mullekom,Daily Press

Doris and Jim Eagle are avid gardeners who want their yard to look good any time of the year.

During winter, they know Father Time tells roses and hydrangeas to slumber, so they turn to Mother Nature's wakeup call for plants that produce wintertime berries.

For several years, they've enjoyed the cold weather beauty of a pyracantha bush - laden with orange-red fruits - they've slowly trained into a taller-than-Doris wreath.

"The wreath has been fun to play with - trimming and having birds build nests in it - and decorating it with my giant Halloween spider web in the center for fall," says Doris, who is a Yorktown, Va., resident and longtime master gardener.

Pyracantha, also known as firethorn, is an evergreen bush in cold hardiness Zones 6-9, even colder climates if a hardier variety is planted. (Maryland's plant hardiness zones range from 7b along the Atlantic Ocean to 5b on the state's westernmost edge. The higher the number, the warmer the temperature.) It can be used as a hedge or stand-alone plant. Thorns along its stems deter deer and give birds protective cover from hawks. Its white spring flowers are dainty and showy, turning into brilliant berries that ripen in September and persist well into winter. Cultivars, sold at garden centers, include large and dwarf types.

Doris remembers she got her pyracantha as a one-gallon plant for $8.43 in March 1999 at Home Depot, thanks to information she religiously keeps in a gardening journal. She uses the journal and a corresponding card catalog to maintain records of where plants are in the yard and how she cares for them.

Pyracantha is a fast grower, so Jim, also a master gardener, soon attached its two main stems to a trellis so Doris could begin pruning it into the shape she wanted. As the plant grew larger, she used soft pantyhose strips instead of harsh wire ties to secure it to the trellis.

The plant grows with two main stems attached to each side of the trellis. Those stems meet in the center at the top.

"If I had it to do over again, I would crisscross those two stems rather than let them go straight up the side they were growing," she says.

Maintaining the plant is simple. Each April, she gives the plant a major trim to keep its new spring growth robust. After the flowers are gone and before the berries form, she uses small hand-pruners to trim it regularly, making sure she doesn't cut off fruits that are forming. Sturdy string tied to trim boards on the house prevent the heavy plant from toppling.

"During [Hurricane] Isabel, it blew over and the whole thing was laying on the ground, but ... it did not break," she says.

"It's been a fun plant to have around."

Kathy Van Mullekom writes for the (Newport News, Va.) Daily Press.

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